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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Keno — no beano

19 November 2002

Dear Mark,
I am a bit leery of these new computerized games you see everywhere, especially computerized keno. You yourself once said that no one to your knowledge have ever hit a 15 spot. I was wondering if there would be any correlation between no one ever hitting a long shot keno ticket, and the computer knowing in advance what numbers that you are playing? Skip T.

Ah, Skip, that miscreant 15-spot! Chances of hitting this critter are about 428 billion to one. Or how about this beast they call the "Special Bonus" ticket; hitting 19 out of 20. Try the improbable odds of two quadrillion, 946 trillion, 096 billion, and 780 million to one. To cash in on this dour dog, you would have to play one keno ticket per second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And then, according to laws of probability, you will catch 19 out of 20 once every 93,420,116 years. If you are a player of such yuck, I hope your genetic traits include longevity; you're looking at a lifetime-with no sleep-a hundred thousand times the length of Methuselah's record setter.

Now come on, Skip, with such a built-in advantage, why would the casino (or the slot machine owners) even entertain the thought of blatant dishonesty. They don't need to double-cheat you to win; they use simple math to ensure that they will win in the end. All casino games-table as well as slot, mind you-assure the "house percentage" by reducing the payoffs when you win. Long shot 15-spot keno tickets are no exception to this rule.

Because your question involved keno, allow me to do some fifth grade 'rithmetic to explain how easy it is for the casino to dip into your billfold without the pickpocket's shabby illegitimacy.

In keno, the house picks 20 numbers between 1 and 80. You, by repeating your personal mantra and then lunging into an uneducated guess, predict which of those numbers will appear. For example, suppose you make a one-dollar, one-spot wager that the number 25 is going to emerge. Again, pop quiz 'rithmetic proves that your chances of winning are 1 in 4 (= 20 divided by 80 = 25% ). Now if the game had no house edge, and the number you picked (25) was a winner, how much should you have gotten back? The correct answer is $4. But hold on, Skippy, the casino is only going fork over three buckaroos.

This, in its simplest form, is the concept of the house percentage. The casino figures out the true odds of the game, then pay you less than those true odds. In my example, you only won $3 when the true odds dictated that you should have won $4. This calculates to a colossal 25% house percentage. And with a casino edge on a one spot at 25%, you will lose $25 for every $100 you wager. Pick more numbers, like a 15 spot, and well, you should be getting the picture by now . . . .

One more thing, Skip. The casino does not need a 25% house edge to legally hack though your pocketbook. Casino owners can sleep comfortably on just a 5% return without the aid of SLEEPY-BYE-OL. They know that in the long run you will flip them $5 for every $100 you wager. Fortunately though, avid readers of this column (can't speak for the forgetful) only make wagers that have less than a 2% casino advantage.

So, Skip, as for the casino defrauding you by twiddling the slot: fuhgeddaboudit! Concern yourself more with game selection.

Gambling thought of the week: "God has given us casinos so that we might learn to live without money." VP Pappy

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.